JOHANNESBURG – Eskom’s chief operations officer, Jan Oberholzer, has been cleared of wrongdoing in a R42million payment dispute with Aveng over a Majuba Power Station rail project.
The South Gauteng High Court this month ruled in favour of Aveng and ordered Eskom to pay the private contractor more than R40m, plus interest, until the debt was settled.
The court also ordered the debt-laden power utility to pay Aveng’s legal costs in the case.
Aveng Grinaker-LTA’s civil engineering division was awarded the three-year project in January 2013, but the completion date was subsequently pushed out to December 2017.
Oberholzer was accused of putting pressure on an Eskom employee to settle two invoices amounting to R42m due to the global infrastructure and resources group for its work on a rail-yard and coal off-loading facility at Majuba power station in Mpumalanga.
The whistle-blower, who held the post of general manager: mega projects, approached Corruption Watch and raised concerns about victimisation with respect to a prior grievance lodged against Oberholzer in September 2019.
He also raised concerns about being victimised for lodging the grievance and for making a general protected disclosure on business irregularities to the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture.
Eskom appointed an external senior counsel, advocate Nazir Cassim, to investigate the employee’s grievance against Oberholzer following a series of allegations of corruption, dishonesty, conflict of interest and abuse of power levelled against him by an employee in March.
Advocate Cassim had directed Eskom to conduct a disciplinary action against Oberholzer on the allegation that he had favoured the interests of Aveng. But he also advised Eskom to await the outcome of the court case before taking any action, thus Oberholzer was not suspended.
Following the high court ruling, advocate Cassim cleared Oberholzer of all wrongdoing in this matter in a subsequent opinion, bringing the grievance procedure to finality.
Eskom’s board has thus thrown its weight behind Oberholzer, saying it would continue to lend him all the necessary support to enable him to fully perform his job.
“The Eskom board strongly condemns persistent, unfounded and scurrilous allegations against Mr Oberholzer, which have not only served to distract management’s attention away from the very critical job of correcting the poor performance of Eskom’s generation plant, but have also unnecessarily brought disrepute to Eskom and dragged the name of a key and dedicated employee into non-existent corruption scandals,” it said.
Eskom said it noted the high court judgment in the Aveng matter and would comply with the court order.
Corruption Watch spokesperson Phemelo Khaas said they would respond in detail to the court ruling at a later stage.
Numsa, which has previously called for Oberholzer’s head, declined to comment at this stage.
The Majuba rail project is part of the Eskom Road to Rail Initiative. It involved the construction of a 68km railway line that links the Majuba Power Station to the main coal railway hub in Ermelo in Mpumalanga.